When You Pray: Scripture’s Teaching on Prayer, by Herman Hanko. Jenison, MI, Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006. Pp. 177.
The contents of this book are just as the title states, an application of the Word of God to the study of prayer. Scripture’s teaching on God’s sovereignty, the Trinity, sin, the conscience, chastisement, affliction, and many other topics are examined in connection with the prayers of believers. The book is profitable instruction on prayer exactly because its arguments are taken from God’s Word and are not what someone happens to think prayer is or should be.
It was encouraging to read in the preface (p. xii) that this book, in part, is the fruit of a Monday night Bible class that the author taught to young people on the topic of prayer. Writes the author,
I owe the Bible class a debt of gratitude. Without these many classes, the book now presented to the reader would not be what it is. The young people contributed enormously to its contents, and through their intense discussion, they shed much light on the entire subject. It is hoped that the profit we gained from the classes will also help others of God’s people in the difficult art of prayer (p. xii).
Certainly the young people who read the Beacon Lights should be encouraged to know that the study of prayer and spiritual growth in prayer is not something exclusively for the older generations in the church.
As I read the book I took note of sections which I found particularly interesting and edifying. While I cannot mention all of them, I will highlight a few of them. On pages 3 and 4 the author states the truth that “the wicked cannot pray.” A strong argument is used to prove the point. It goes as follows.
God’s covenant is like a family. God is himself a family God because he is, within the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s covenant with his people means that God takes his people into his own covenant family. He does not and will not take any into his family who hate him. He has no family conversation with the wicked. They prefer to blaspheme him rather than to hear his words.
On pages 11 and 12 the author emphasizes that “our prayers, worked by the Holy Spirit, are made in Christ’s name and are directed to God.” This truth is important to understand because many are of the opinion that God speaks directly to His people by the Holy Spirit apart from the Word. This is not the case as the author points out and a failure to understand this is dangerous and will quickly lead one in the wrong direction.
Perhaps the most important biblical truth to understand in connection with prayer is God’s sovereignty. The author writes,
Prayer presupposes the truth of God’s complete and absolute sovereignty, but it also determines the character of our prayer. God is God alone; he does all his good pleasure. He holds the heart of kings in his hands and turns them whithersoever he will (Prov. 21:1). If even the hearts of kings are in his hand, everything else is as well. We pray because God is sovereign. If he were not, there would be no point in praying (p.17).
On pages 44 and 45 the author addresses the difficulty of our calling, as found in Ephesians 5:20, to be thankful for all things. How is it possible to be thankful to God for the fact that one’s house has burned to the ground or that one has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer? The author uses Romans 8:28 and Isaiah 55:8 to answer this difficulty. Towards the end of his discussion of this challenging question he writes,
To be thankful for the sufferings of this present time is really possible only after the troubles are past. Only after the hurt has gone away and the pain is eased are God’s people able to say, in retrospect, “Yes, it was good for me. I was blessed in and through what God sent. I am thankful for the dark and difficult way through which the Lord led me. It was a blessedness which, if it had not happened, would have left my life impoverished.” As one old saint said to me after being on the edge of the grave, “I would not have missed it for anything” (p. 45).
Those of you who are familiar with the author’s preaching know his ability to make difficult truths clear by means of illustrations from everyday life. This book is full of helpful illustrations which aid the reader in understanding scriptural truths. One illustration that the author uses is found on page 53 in answer to the question, “Why must we seek all things from God when He knows what we need before we even ask Him? The answer:
…because our heavenly Father loves us, it is pleasing to him that we, as little children, seek all things from him. Parents, concerned for the welfare and care of their children, also know what their children need and what is best for them. Nevertheless, these parents want their children to ask them for what they need. Our heavenly Father does the same. Just as parents would be hurt if their children went to the neighbors to get food to eat, so our Father is hurt when we seek our daily needs from the world rather than from his hand. To do so is a slight, an insult, a lack of trust. It is a kind of denial of the father-child relationship. If our children do this consistently, then we ask them, “Are we not your parents? Do you think, perhaps, that we do not take good care of you? Why do you go elsewhere?” We deny that God is our Father when we fail to seek all things from him. Petitionary prayer is a confession of our spiritual Father-child relationship.
The chapter on praying with a good conscience is interesting. The dreadfulness of a conscience that has been “seared with a hot iron” is explained. The author gives many examples of Old Testament saints praying with a good conscience. It seems as if these men, in their prayers, were bringing their own righteousness before God. Hezekiah, for example, prayed to God , “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (Isaiah 38:3). The Psalms are full of expressions similar to this. The difficulty of this kind of language is removed when one understands that these men were coming to God in prayer with a good conscience, as the author explains.
The author spends a good deal of time throughout the book explaining the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to our prayers. Emphasized is the fact that the Holy Spirit never works apart from the Scriptures. One memorable paragraph explaining this relationship is found on page 124 where we read,
To put it a little differently, God has given us our minds sanctified by the Spirit and a good measure of common sense so that we know in the light of Scripture what is right and good. God tells us, “Now use your sanctified common sense. Do not ask me to tell you whether you should move to another state. You have my word; now apply it to your life.”
Comforting are Chapter 15 on “Perseverance in Prayer” and Chapter 16 on “Praying to a Hidden God.” One of the questions addressed is “Why does God not immediately answer our prayers when they are according to his own will?” (p. 134). Another issue the author addresses is the fact that from our point of view God seems to be hidden from us when we pray to Him in times of great trouble or affliction.
One final section that I took note of was towards the end of Chapter 17, dealing with the problem of repetition in prayer. The author makes the point that, “One who truly meditates on the Scriptures, makes them a source of his contemplation, takes them into his heart, and sees in them God’s great glory will quite naturally have much to pray about. The very reading of Scripture inspires prayers within the praying saint” (pp.158, 159).
Every saint, whether young or old, will benefit from reading this book. But since this review appears in the Beacon Lights, I would like to recommend this book to the younger generation. What a privilege it is that we have older saints willing to put their lifetime of trials, study, and experiences on paper for our spiritual edification and growth.